HECATE STRAIT 2017
A bush of 'flutes'! We have finally come to understand how this strange sponge works. It seems to start off as a small sheet, a wafer, that folds into a tube and is attached at the base at one spot. Another flute forms and is fused to the last.
A Pilot's Life at Sea
by Evgeni Matveev
ROPOS= Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science
The original 1985 ROPOS was manufactured in Port Coquitlam (British Columbia), but several generations and decades of technological advancement later it’s an entirely new state-of-the-art machine. The three-ton robot is equipped with over $200K of cameras, CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor), Sonar, a suction sampler, top-notch navigation system, and two custom built titanium arms that are so versatile they can fit a 1cm diameter probe into a 2cm diameter sponge opening – one of the hardest things the ROPOS crew do.
When Luke Girard started with ROPOS he got thrown right in the deep end (literally), and had to figure how to work on the fly. It takes impeccable spacial acuity, a cool head, and, perhaps most importantly, some strong sea legs. Keith Tamburri, the lead operator, said that sometimes you have no choice but to work in rough weather, so losing time to seasickness is not an option. Early in his career Keith recalls being caught in a storm with 24m waves; he described it as two sleepless days of hell when he genuinely feared for his life.
So, if this job doesn’t have an “entry level”, how does someone start out? Keith first started working with submersibles at 15 and was part of the team that delivered and tested the original ROPOS. After a stint in entrepreneurship he got his degree in robotics from BCIT in 1989, and started working with ROPOS two years later. He chose to work with ROPOS specifically because he loved marine science (and even took two years in college; however, was “asked to take a break because he was having too much fun”). Keith says he loves the technical challenges that come with the job, and working with educated people who do interesting projects.
ROPOS being deployed in the water.
On this job, you certainly get to see things not many people get to. Keith fondly recalled diving with a team of anthropologists exploring ship wrecks from 2000BC, and on the same dive seeing fibreglass boats from the 80s: a perfect juxtaposition of seafaring through the years. Peter said his favourite part is exploring the unknown and described awe-inspiring hydrothermal vents abundant with unusual creatures that adapted to an extreme way of life.
Consistent with being adventurous, this job is anything but a stable nine-to-five. In the past, ROPOS operations have taken place primarily in the summer when the weather is kinder; however recently the team started working winters in the southern hemisphere. The stretches of work mean leaving your family for as long as eight weeks, and that can be one of the hardest parts, said Peter. When not at sea, the operators are in Victoria, British Columbia fixing and modifying the ROV.
The advancement of underwater technologies is important for executing more delicate experiments and exploring the ocean in more detail. We’re very fortunate to be able to use ROPOS for researching the sponge reefs and are excited to see what the ROV future holds.
Deployed the hydrophones! (and got them back - even better): what does a reef sound like?
Here's what a sponge reef looks like, by sonar! - guess where the sponge is...(clue: not the bright spots!)
From the Control Room
Read our blog from 2015 about the life in the control room.
First Look at the Data
Not even considering the effort it took to get out to Hecate Strait, a lot of things had to go right for us to get the graph above:
"The deep sea is one of the least studied regions of the world. I love the idea that when we go to a new place, we might find things no one ever knew existed. I also really enjoy everything about our ship cruises. I am happiest when I am out at sea (even though I am notorious for getting seasick very easily). "
"I am a marine ecologist. I find the ocean exciting because it is like outer space. There are parts unseen with new critters waiting to be discovered. As a child, I imagined myself as an astronaut, so deep sea exploration is as close as I will ever get to being in outer space!"
"Figuring out how the ocean works and how it is capable of such abundant life. Getting to be out in the field trying to answer that question."
"There are no scientists in my family, but I found biology fascinating because it told who animals were and how they interacted and functioned. When I went to UBC I took invertebrate biology from Tom Carefoot and Sandra Millen; I was blown away by the kaleidoscope of creatures that lack backbones (invertebrates). They were my first science mentors and instrumental in fostering the idea that marine science could be fun."
"In terms of role models, my mom is a fantastic role model for perseverance. She’d call it stubbornness, but she says that once she puts effort into something, she doesn’t want that effort to be wasted, and that really taught me follow-through. She also says that it doesn’t hurt to ask for something because the worst that someone can say is “no.” That’s worked out very well for me."
"Maybe not reputation, but it affects some aspects of work life. This is changing though.
"Certainly there are moments when I recognize that I’m female and that that colors people’s perceptions of me, and it is upsetting when I read about gender biases that sometimes we don’t even recognize. I haven’t let it get to me though – I’m happy being female and I like to do science, so therefore I’m a female scientist. When there’s the occasional overtly gender-biased statement, I call it out right away." Amanda Kahn
"I think there needs to be more flexibility for women to take parental leave from work. I’ve spoken to many female scientists who don’t end up pursuing academia because their “biological clock is ticking”. I think it is a shame we lose perfectly capable and highly intelligent women from science for this reason alone."
"I think there are (unfortunately) still too many subtle experiences that cumulatively deter young women from pursuing STEM careers and education. Focusing on challenging these barriers early on may lead to more women in STEM."
"Providing more support for women that choose to have families. Promoting more women into leadership roles. Recognizing, talking about, and finding ways to combat unconscious biases."
"Yes, I wondered after my postdocs whether I should go into teaching or medicine or editing. But, in the end I just couldn’t stomach giving up the freedom to have a job that allowed me to follow my curiosity."
"The ratio in the number of specialized research jobs to the number of qualified candidates is small so there’s a lot of competition. While I have not thought of giving up science, I have considered taking research work in fields more tangential to my field of expertise – these were jobs I considered holding while I continued to search for a position that was more aligned with my expertise and interests. It definitely takes perseverance, luck in timing for finding available opportunities, mobility and circumstance."
"It might be commitment to things, even when challenges come up. And, perhaps, curiosity- there are always questions to get excited about finding answers for."
"Try to keep the sense of wonder you have. My daughters are 5 and 2 years old and their ability to notice everything and their curiosity is a source of inspiration for me. Also, try to embrace work and study opportunities that come up, even those that don’t seem to align perfectly with your field of choice - having a broader perspective (and neat experiences!) will be helpful no matter where you go." Anya Dunham
"There will be moments you may think you are not good enough, smart enough, or eloquent enough to be in this field. I want you to know that you are all these things and more! There will be moments when you want to quit, but at these points you must learn to find that “grrrr” deep within to persevere. As women in science, we must be united and supportive of each other. Friendly competition between fellow female science colleagues is healthy, but at the end of the day remember you are on the same team!" Lauren Law
"If you go into a profession or field that you’re passionate about and inspired by it will be easier to put in the hard work that will be required to make a path for yourself. I think this applies to many fields/careers – not just in science."
Sponges are filter-feeders; they pump water through their body with cells that have a feather-like flagellum that undulates back and forth. The water passes through a fine mesh and the cells are able to capture and eat bacteria. The water enters the sponge through pores on the outside of the body and exits through a large opening at the top termed the osculum. The osculum is an important part of the sponge because it has sensory micro-hairs that respond to external stimuli, such as flow and touch.
But the true distinguishing feature of Glass Sponges is that they don’t have membranes separating the cellular brain (the nucleus, for the more biologically savvy), making them essentially one large cell with various compartments. This allows a fast action potential – electrical signal like neuronal signalling– to be passed throughout the tissue and cause pumping to arrest. From lab experiments we know that if there is too much sediment in the water the sponge will stop pumping to avoid clogging its pores; this is a large reason why bottom trawling is so destructive to sponges. One of the goals from this research cruise is to determine the effect that sediment has on glass sponges right on the reefs.
Unlike glass sponges, cellular sponges do have membranes separating individual cells. This means that an action potential can’t be quickly transmitted through the body. Instead they rely on molecules to transfer the signal, but the exact mechanism isn't yet known. Cellular sponges also evolved a way to get rid of sediment. Instead of arresting their pumping, they “sneeze” out the sediment with rhythmic contractions.
The Leys lab has been exploring the sponge reefs off the coast of British Columbia. Using the Remotely Operated Vehicle ROPOS our team has been studying the ecology, physiology and behaviour of sponges in the newest Marine Protected Area in Canada.
Check in with us on our LIVE Stream!